Sunday, December 13, 2009

The humble plight of the Ugly Chicken

Back in the mid 1970's, when I was a teenager, my mother went out and purchased a whole box full of unpainted ceramic Christmas tree ornaments and all the paints, brushes, and supplies that we would need to paint them. There were all kinds of ornaments - cute little mice perched upon Christmas packages, stockings, candy canes, manger scenes, stars, etc. However, among all of these cute and whimsical ornaments, was a plain, ugly, chicken which never got chosen to be painted.

My mother, brother, and I, all three, spent many leisurely, creative hours, painting ornaments, and by Christmas, we had quite a collection of ceramic ornaments to both hang on our tree and to give away as gifts. And as the supply of unfinished ornaments would begin to dwindle, Mother would go out buy another batch for us to paint.

One day, when I was rather bored, and needed something to do, I got the box of unpainted ornaments down and found that the supply had dwindled to only a few of the least favorites, so I decided to finish them up. Among the few, was the ugly chicken, which no one ever wanted to paint. There were only about five or six left, so one-by-one I painted the remaining ornaments, leaving the chicken for last. When I finally got to it, I decided that I would do the best I could with it and when I had finished, I decided that he was still every bit as ugly after I painted him, as he was before. When everyone saw that I had painted him, they laughed about how ugly he still was but they decided that he deserved a place on the tree.

From that year on, he was given a special place on the Erwin family Christmas tree, in the very back, on the very bottom branches where no one could see him. Even after I was grown and would bring my own family back home for Christmas, I would look for the ugly chicken, and there he would be, hanging on the very bottom branches, in the back of the tree.

In June of 2001, Mother passed away after a long and arduous battle with breast cancer, and my dad decided to sell the house that had been our family home since 1967.  My mother loved holidays and Christmas was her favorite of all, and as a result, there was an abundance of Christmas decorations -garlands, wreaths, stockings, ceramic angels, Santas, elves, and tree ornaments that had been collected and saved from my brother, sister and my early childhoods. Dad went through each box of Christmas decorations and divided them up, giving some to my brother and sister, as well as to me, and when I opened the box that contained my share of the decorations, I found that among the many ornaments, I had been given my mother's treasured Hallmark rocking horse collection, the little wooden angels that I brought back from my European travels, and several of the ceramic ornaments that I had painted as a teenager, including the ugly chicken.

So now the tradition continues: The ugly chicken has had his special place on Steph's and my tree since Christmas of 2001, in the very back, bottom branches. And every Christmas as we unpack the ornaments, my kids ask me if we still have the ugly chicken.  Two Christmases ago, when Lauren was in France as an exchange student, I was talking to her on Skype and telling her that we had put up the Christmas tree, and she asked if we had hung the ugly chicken.  She was obviously comforted by the fact that though she was far away from her family, the family traditions remained firm, and that when she returned home by the next Christmas, she would find that the ugly chicken still had his humble but honored spot on the family Christmas tree.


  1. Nettl - this would make a wonderful Christmas story! You should consider writing it as a Christmas book. Or as a magazine article/story. I'll bet a lot of people would love to read it!

    And I don't think the chicken is ugly - I think it's cute!

  2. This gave me sweet goosebumps...a wonderful Christmas story, filled with so many memories, and Love.